It was the equine equivalent of being able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Except Firenze Fire was sprinting and trying to chew Yaupon — or Yaupon’s bridle, or Yaupon’s rider, Ricardo Santana Jr. — at the same time.
One of the lingering memories of a highly memorable Travers Day on Saturday will be the image of Firenze Fire attempting to savage Yaupon in the Grade I Forego, a rare occurrence of an overly aggressive horse reaching over to bite an opponent at full speed that Firenze Fire, remarkably, has been involved in twice during his 36-race career.
As jockey Jose Ortiz wrestled futilely to get Firenze’s Fire’s head straightened out, Yaupon was able to stay the course through the latter stages of the stretch to win the Forego and elevate himself toward the top of the class among male sprinters in the U.S.
He also came out of the scary incident without a scratch, trainer Steve Asmussen’s assistant Scott Blasi said on Sunday morning.
“No marks or anything,” Blasi told the New York Racing Association. “Luckily, Ricardo was able to continue to encourage him, although he was getting pretty close to the inside rail, which I was more worried about than the horse getting bit. “I think it was a really hard thing for him [Ortiz] to correct.
“The thing about it is those guys are riding hard, so they were going forward, and it’s not like you have the bit in their mouth. They’re trying to persevere, and that’s a hard thing to correct when you’re in that position. I’ve seen pictures of horses being savaged, and I’ve seen horses savage, or try to bite, but I’ve never seen any horse do it for that long. I’ve never seen it go on for that long.”
Despite at least half a dozen bite attempts by Firenze Fire, Yaupon persevered and won by a head.
The Firenze Fire camp believes that the misbehavior probably cost their horse the race, since he had momentum while dueling with Yaupon.
“It was unfortunate, but it was a race that people will be talking about for a while,” owner Ron Lombardi said. “Jose did a tremendous job keeping Firenze Fire in there.
“It happens so rarely, and to have one horse involved in it twice — both the giving and receiving end — is really amazing.”
Lombardi was referring to the fact that Firenze Fire had been the bitten years before he became the biter.
In the 2018 Grade III Gallant Bob at Parx, he was the victim of a savaging attempt by Whereshetoldmeto go. Fiorenze Fire won by a neck.
Trainer Brad Cox, who won Saturday’s Travers with Essential Quality, actually had Whereshetoldmetogo in his barn the season after the savaging incident.
“You don’t see much of that at all,” Cox said. “He’s [Santana] lucky he didn’t get ripped off the horse. I thought he was going to rip the bridle off. That’s scary.
“I thought the most amazing thing about the whole thing was how he [Firenze Fire] was running and basically stayed the same speed, and to do that for so long. The horse was running with his head out for three or four seconds.”
‘LIFE’ IS BETTER
Yaupon’s victory was followed immediately by his stablemate Jackie’s Warrior’s win in the Grade I H. Allen Jerkens.
The Allen Jerkens marked the return of Life Is Good, who was trainer Bob Baffert’s otp Kentucky Derby contender back in March, but missed the spring and most of the summer due to injury.
Now trained by Todd Pletcher, Life Is Good finished by a neck to Jackie’s Warrior in his first start in almost six months.
“He ran a spectacular race off the layoff,” Pletcher said. “He went really fast and just got nipped by a really good horse.
“We’re kind of surveying all of our options. We’ll give it a little time just to digest the race and assess how he comes out of it. I think he’s versatile enough that there’s a lot of potential options.”
AMERICA’S JOY EUTHANIZED
The unraced 2-year-old filly America’s Joy, a daughter of American Pharoah who was purchased as a yearling for a whopping $8.2 million at Keeneland last September, was euthanized Sunday morning due to catastrophic injuries suffered while breezing on the main track for trainer Todd Pletcher.
According to the New York State Gaming Commission’s Equine Breakdown, Death, Injury and Incident Database, America’s Joy “Sustained sesamoid fracture while breezing/broke neck in fall.”
There have been three equine deaths from racing injuries since the meet opened on July 15, the last of which occurred on Aug. 5, and America’s Joy is the sixth from injuries suffered during morning workouts since training began in April.
They include Olympico, a Grade III winner who ran in the Bernard Baruch for trainer Chad Brown the last two years. He was vanned off the Oklahoma Training Track on Saturday, Aug. 21, with a right hind injury and euthanized at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital.
Mandy Pope of Whisper Hill Farm purchased America’s Joy for $8.2 million at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. The filly was a half-sister to future Hall of Famer Beholder; Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and UAE Derby winner Mendelssohn; and Into Mischief, one of the top sires in the country who has produced the likes of Saturday’s Ballerina winner Gamine, Allen Jerkens runner-up Life Is Good; Grade I Carter winner Mischevious Alex and Mandaloun.
WEEK 8 STAKES PROBABLES
The highlights of closing week include the newly installed Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup card on Saturday and the traditional final leg in the series of graded stakes for 2-year-olds on the dirt.
The Jockey Club Gold Cup, which is a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Classic and typically run the first Saturday in October, has been flip-flopped on the New York stakes schedule with the Woodward to make it more attractive to horsemen, with a few more weeks of spacing before the Nov. 6 BC Classic at Del Mar.
The first JCGC to be run at Saratoga is expected to draw Suburban winner Max Player; Happy Saver, who won the JCGC last year as a 3-year-old; Night Ops; Forza Di Oro; Forewarned; and Chess Chief.
Targeting the Grade I Spinaway for 2-year-old fillies on Sunday will be Benbang, Dream Lith, Echo Zulu, Microbiome, Pretty Birdie, Saucy Lady T, Sequist and Sue Ellen Mishkin.
Pretty Birdie won the Schuylerville on opening day for Marylou Whitney Stables.
American Xperiment, Headline Report, Power Agenda and Wit, and possibly Defend, are probable for the Grade I Hopeful on closing day next Monday.
Wit has won his two career starts by a combined 14 lengths, including the Grade III Sanford by eight on July 17. He and stablemate Power Agenda both breezed on the Oklahoma on Sunday for trainer Todd Pletcher.
“He’s very professional,” Pletcher said of Wit. “He’s very responsive to whatever you want him to do. He’ll sit off a horse, and he’ll accelerate on command. He’s really been push-button so far.”
MEDINA SPIRIT IS BACK
Medina Spirit’s Kentucky Derby victory is still up in the air, but the horse got himself solidly back into the winner’s circle with a victory in the ungraded $100,000 Shared Belief at Del Mar on Sunday night.
In his first race since finishing third in the Preakness on May 15, the Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit won the Shared Belief by aggressively establishing position on the front end heading into the first turn and maintaining the advantage throughout to hold Rock Your World at bay all the way around the track.
Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby on May 1, then twice tested positive for a regulated therapeutic drug, putting the Derby result on hold while regulators and the courts continue to sift through the issue.
He was given a break from racing after the Preakness and came back in winning fashion on Sunday at Del Mar, with one more race on the horizon as a bridge to the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 6 back at Del Mar. Medina Spirit will run in either the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx on Sept. 25 or the Awesome Again at Santa Anita on Oct. 2.
John Velazquez, Medina Spirit’s regular jockey, flew cross-country from Saratoga to California to ride in the Shared Belief.
“I don’t think we got to the bottom of him today,” Velazquez told the TVG Network. “You could see down the stretch, he was waiting, waiting. So I’m pretty happy with how he did it. Bob had him ready for today, obviously.”
“I knew if I brought him back, he had to run well,” Baffert told TVG. “I was hoping he’d run first or second. He looked great in the paddock. You can tell he’s matured. He had a tough spring, running all those races, chasing Life Is Good and all these good horses. But we’ll see what Johnny says and how he comes out of this, and go from there.”
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: